It’s time to try Canada’s oldest whisky

Canadian Club 40 Year Old is the oldest whisky ever released by a Canadian distiller

The Canadian Club 40 Year Old whisky, unveiled at the warehouse on Tuesday, Sept. 26, in Windsor, Ont. Joanne Sasvari photo

Only in Canada, you say? Pity. Everyone else will have to travel to the True North to get their hands on the oldest Canadian whisky that has ever been poured.

“In Canadian whisky, you’re never going to find a 40-year-old whisky – not until today,” Tish Harcus tells us as we stand outside the Windsor, Ont., warehouse where row upon row of barrels stand stacked upon each other.

And with that, the Canadian Club global brand ambassador plunges a copper whisky thief into a dusty barrel and withdraws a few drops of the golden liquid that will make history.

The Canadian Club 40 Year Old is not only the oldest whisky ever released by a Canadian distiller, at a suggested price of $249.95, it is one of the most expensive, too.

Tish Harcus, global brand ambassador, draws the first drops of Canadian Club 40 Year Old whisky from the barrel. Joanne Sasvari photo

It is one of several rare old whiskies that are hitting the market this fall, most of them part of Corby Spirit and Wine’s inaugural Northern Border Collection Rare Release, which includes Pike Creek 21 Year Old, Lot No. 40’s 12 Year Old Cask Strength, Gooderham & Worts “Little Trinity” 17 Year Old Three Grain and J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old. (Their prices range from $70 to $165.)

All of this represents a coming of age — quite literally — for a style of whisky that has sometimes been underestimated on the world stage. Canadian whisky has often been dismissed for its easy-drinking nature, but now it’s being lauded for the soft, sweet spice that makes it such an elegant sipper.

Of course, Jack Farrell couldn’t have known that back in 1977 when he put a few barrels of corn distillate aside. CC’s master distiller was known for trying new things, but neglected to say what his plan was for these barrels before he died.

“We were saving this and didn’t know what they were going to use it for,” Harcus says.

“In the past, they blended an aged spirit, so we were going to blend it, but when we tasted it we realized this whisky is perfect the way it is.”

They also decided it was the perfect dram to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, which is why all 7,000 bottles of it are only being sold within our borders.

Straight from the barrel, the liquid is a powerful 60% alcohol by volume. Even so, it has juicy aromas of dark plums and dried figs — that “pruniness” is a bit of a signature for CC — as well as sweet caramel, toffee and vanilla. On the palate, it is voluptuously velvety, and absolutely bursting with spices such as cloves and nutmeg.

It’s the sort of flavour profile one expects from rye, yet this is 100 per cent corn. And every drop of golden colour and most of the flavour comes from the barrels – no caramel or other additives have been mixed in.

“We wanted to make it as pure as it was over 40 years,” Harcus says.

In the bottle, it will be a somewhat gentler 45% ABV, with the same complex plum-and-spice character, but without the fiery burn.

“We were going to bottle it at cask strength, but we talked to our whisky experts and they recommended taking it down to 45,” Harcus says.

Speaking of the bottle, it’s a gorgeous heavyweight decanter that is a fitting vessel for the best of a brand known as “the godfather of Canadian whisky.” It would look very nice on your bar cart or home bar.

But it’s what’s inside the bottle that really counts. And what’s in it is a few drops of history, and a taste of the future.

“Forty years. Think about this liquid. For 40 years this liquid has gone into the wood and pulled out the flavours and spices and tannins,” Harcus says. She takes another sip and smiles. “It was worth the wait.”

• The Canadian Club 40 Year Old and Corby’s Northern Border collection will be available at select retailers this month.

—by Joanne Sasvari

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